An Evaluation of Bicycle Safety Impacts of Seattle's Commercial Vehicle Load Zones
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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) partnered with the University of Washington to explore how commercial vehicle parking in Seattle’s downtown area affects the safety of bicyclists. The hypothesis was that increased truck access to SDOT’s commercial vehicle loading zones (CVLZs) can positively contribute to bicycle safety. Because CVLZs provide truck drivers with more access to legal parking, their presence could reduce incidences of trucks parking illegally in the street or blocking bicycle lanes, thus reducing the necessity for bicyclists to maneuver around them. This research explored this hypothesis by using four methods, an analysis of bike-trucks accident data, interviews with bicyclists and truck drivers who frequently travel in downtown Seattle, analysis of video recordings of cyclists riding downtown, and observations of truck loading/unloading operations downtown. The research determined that from bicyclists’ perspectives, illegally parked trucks were a more serious problem than the locations of CVLZs. Therefore, increasing the availability of legal truck parking should have a positive effect on bicyclist safety and level of stress. When trucks park in the bike lane, cyclists are required to maneuver into the stream of traffic, increasing level of exposure and accident risk. Similarly, both the cyclist interviews and video data indicated that construction sites are problematic locations for illegally parked trucks blocking cyclist travel lanes. Better enforcement of parking regulations near construction sites and better site planning would help alleviate a significant amount of conflict between cyclists and parked trucks. Loading zones on higher speed or busy streets or in areas where cyclists travel downhill increase the danger of those areas. In some areas, it may be possible to relocate loading zones around the corner, onto less busy side streets, to eliminate the need for cyclists to choose between merging into a busy lane to pass a truck or passing close enough to the truck that the delivery operations may put obstacles in the bicyclist’s path. If loading zones are moved, the zones should be situated at the beginning of the block and should allow drivers to still reach the businesses they are serving quickly and without having to maneuver or cross a street. This will encourage the use of the loading zone as opposed to illegal parking.